Game 26 Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning vs Pittsburgh Penguins

The Tampa Bay Lightning (16-8-1, 33 PTS), after largely having its way with the Flyers en route to its tenth victory in twelve home matches, will look to turn the tables against the ever-dangerous Pittsburgh Penguins (16-9-1, 33 PTS), which has won the last seven regular season contests between the two clubs (all but one) since they met in the 2011 quarterfinals.

The Penguins, which most recently — fueled by the heroics of Evgeni Malkin — stunned the Maple Leafs after falling behind 4-1 in the middle frame on Wednesday, handed the Bolts one of its two home losses earlier this season in what was a dramatic, back-and-forth battle, one decided in the final minute and largely by the play of Sidney Crosby and a magnificent showing by the Pens power play.

After seeing its possession metrics plunge into mediocrity during the lockout-shortened season, Pittsburgh is back among the league’s elite with the 3rd-highest score-close, 5v5 shot attempt ratio and one of the NHL’s best per-60 minutes played rate of generated shot attempts. With exceptional talents Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the way, the Pens play a high-event style but do a good job, like the Lightning, limiting the opposition, boasting one of the top attempt differentials. The good process in its even-strength play has buoyed the club as, in recent weeks, its puck-luck cooled off from the fortuitous level it enjoyed through the first handful of games. Also not surprising is Pittsburgh, which has registered 21 5v4 goals (second only to Washington’s 24), having one of the most effective power plays. The Pens have an almost identical amount of time with the man advantage as the Lightning but, in one key departure, have been one of the least-penalized squads.

As for Tampa Bay, it has climbed back into the middle of the pack, possession-wise, where it seems likely to hover around for the duration of the season. It’s a market improvement, nonetheless, from its bottom-of-the-barrel metrics last season. After a dismal road trip out West, the Lightning’s offense came alive at home against the Rangers and Flyers. Veterans like Martin St. Louis and Teddy Purcell up front, as well as Victor Hedman from the backend, delivered strong performances but, with Steven Stamkos still a long way from a return to action, the Bolts also got a much-needed boost from its depth.

Nikita Kucherov, like JT Brown before him, provided a noticeable spark and some quick dividends after his recall. We’re dealing with small sample sizes discussing both, especially Kucherov as he’s only played two games, but they have the second- and third-highest on-ice shot attempts for ratio as well as the best and third-highest individual shot (and attempt) rates during 5v5 score-close situations. It’s not like they’ve been deployed cautiously, either, as both have among the lowest o-zone to d-zone start rations among Lightning forwards. Additionally, the so-called “Top Gun” line (originally coined by sister site Bolt Prospects), of course, played some of their best hockey together this season and, among the rearguards, Andrej Sustr and Mark Barberio filled in admirably after being given expanded roles with Radko Gudas sidelined.

Yet again, a great opportunity awaits the Lightning, first and foremost to bank a few more precious points trying to climb the Stairway to (Postseason) Heaven but also to shed another monkey from the organization’s back, in what amounts to a marquee Friday afternoon match-up that should have plenty around the league keeping close tabs.

NOTES

Season Series

PITTSBURGH LEADS 1-0
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Rosters

LIGHTNING PENGUINS
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STATPACK

 

Team

TOI, POSSESSION & SCORING TOTALS
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POSSESSION & SCORING RATES
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POSSESSION, SCORING & SHOOTING PERCENTAGES
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Special Teams

POWER PLAY
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PENALTY KILL
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Goaltending

ON-ICE TOTALS
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ON-ICE RATES
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ON-ICE PERCENTAGES
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Scoring

LIGHTNING
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PENGUINS
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Team stats cited from Extra Skater.

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